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Harrington battling to emerge from shadows

Padraig Harrington has tumbled down the world ladder and out of golf's elite top 50 but there's plenty of fight in the 'old' warhorse yet.

Dublin's three-times Major champion positively bristled yesterday when it was suggested during an Irish Open media conference call that he might welcome a little time in the shade cast by the US Open-winning feats of Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell.

"I certainly don't relish being in the shadows," retorted Harrington, leaving no doubt about his determination to show who's boss when the event returns to Killarney on July 28-31, the August Bank Holiday weekend.

In the absence of a replacement for '3' as title sponsor, the Irish Open purse is slashed from €3m to €1.5m. Yet crowds in excess of the 80,000 who watched England's Ross Fisher pip hard-charging Harrington last year are expected.

However, Harrington dispels any suggestion of a 'War on the Lake Shore' between himself and man-of-the-moment McIlroy.

"Actually, it's hard to be a rival of Rory," he explains. "You always walk away from conversations with him thinking 'this is one nice guy.'

"He's one of the most confident people I've come across who doesn't have even a glimmer of arrogance.

"So, I hardly feel like it's a competition with Rory, or Graeme for that matter. I'm still well motivated about doing my own things in golf and don't need external factors.

"Like most professional golfers, I'm more in competition with myself out there than anyone else."

On that score, Harrington hasn't fared well recently. In nearly three years since his back-to-back victories at the 2008 British Open and US PGA, he's won just once -- an Asian Tour event in Malaysia last October.

Including April's Masters, he's missed three cuts and registered just one top-10 in his last seven events and, after finishing 45th behind McIlroy at Congressional, admitted he'd been getting impatient with himself on the course.

Yet he insists just one little piece of the jigsaw is missing.

"I'm not quite putting all my game together and it's not for the lack of effort, enthusiasm or diligence," he said. "I'm doing all the right things and going through the right processes, but I'm just missing that little bit. Out on the course, you wouldn't see any difference between now and the way I played two years ago. Maybe I holed a putt or two more back then, which breeds a bit more confidence into the rest of your game.

"I tend to be shooting a lot of 70s at the moment. Turn them into 68s and I'm winning tournaments."

Convinced McIlroy (22) can exceed the record 18 Majors won by Jack Nicklaus, Harrington urges fans to take "this opportunity to go and see him play."

McIlroy's presence, and the decision of Killarney to once again stage the town Summer Fest in conjunction with the tournament, should ensure a repeat of the exciting 'old time' Irish Open atmosphere which surrounded last year's event.

Failte Ireland are ploughing €1.25m into this golf-tourism showpiece and with support from prominent individuals and the business community, Tour chief executive George O'Grady predicts it'll break even.

Sponsorship negotiations with a major multi-national corporation have been ongoing since spring -- too late for this season, but a big long-term deal is expected to come into operation from next year.

Irish Independent